- Published on Thursday, 22 March 2012 12:16
- Written by IVM
Startle report on Paris – A bad project well sold?
Juan Pablo Bocarejo (Bogotá, 09/01/2012)
The case studies for Paris focus on the instruments, the actors and the political issues that have culminated in transport and development projects which will mark the Paris region over the next few decades.
The thing that startles me the most is the way the big decisions were taken for the adoption of the new transport plan for the Paris region. I am first struck by the fact that a plan which had been put together through a long consultation process and a feasibility analysis (the SDRIF), possibly unfamiliar to the public, was replaced by a very different and rapidly constructed project. This phenomenon, in which the institutional framework, the rules for the investment of public funds and the continuity of long-term plans, are interrupted and a new vision imposed, is precisely what we see in developing countries, where institutions are weak. Here, the arrival of a new government is often accompanied by the suspension of existing projects. Lack of long-term vision and ambition for territorial integration in the SDRIF and therefore need for a saviour, or desperate action?
The fact that this new vision comes from the State is also surprising. Before Sarkozy’s arrival in power, with the changing composition of the STIF and the reduction in 2006 of state participation in the funding of public transport in Île-de-France, it looked as though the state’s influence in regional affairs, and especially in transport, was diminishing, and that local autonomy was increasing. Unlike London where, since 2001, the Greater London Authority, headed by the Mayor, is responsible for the city’s affairs, with a high degree of local autonomy, recent years have seen a greater desire on the part of central government to intervene in Paris.
The flagship project itself, the “Big Eight”, of which I had never heard when I looked at the transport plans for the Paris region just 5 years ago, is also surprising, both in its ambition and its cost. The gamble of the Big Eight is to radically alter the way the Île-de-France region functions, by creating new centres, with better connections through the new public transport system. Although the Paris region was previously an example of innovation in territorial planning, with its new town concept, betting on a relocation of employment and strong employment growth in the future, which would be the basis of the use of the Big Eight, seems a risky gamble.
What also surprises me is the way the project seems to change gradually over time, probably because it was put together too quickly at the beginning. Imagining that this costly project will be financed predominantly from land value surpluses is undoubtedly optimistic, with significant budget revisions, changing the project owner and operator gives an impression of improvisation…
In some countries, the evaluation of transport projects is a significant preliminary process in their implementation. Detailed methods have been established and their application required by law for a project to be considered. These methods begin with a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), which is increasingly accompanied by multi-criteria assessments. It is this type of analysis which is required by the World Bank when a developing city is seeking funds for a transport project, and it should be a factor in the decision-making process. “Best practices” for project evaluation and decision-making suggest a comparison with other similar projects. Investments in increasing the quality and capacity of certain parts of the existing network and extending them are probably more economically viable than the Big Eight.
The Big Eight could be a new textbook case of an economically failing megaproject, like the Big Dig in Boston and certain high-speed trains and metros, if system demand and costs are not rigourously assessed and decisions taken accordingly. The report on this project presented in the Making of Movement, suggests that the benefits of the project are uncertain, or at least deserve a good risk analysis, that the investment and above all the operating costs have not yet been properly specified, and that the sources of funding are not very clear, in a situation where transport subsidies in Île-de-France are already substantial.
Finally, the example of Paris and the example described in other cases in the Making of Movement show that the process of constructing and making decisions on transport projects seems to focus on new benefits, which are difficult to assess using traditional project analysis tools. Innovation, impact on the city, not to say the regional economy, green transport, these are the criteria considered in 21st-century projects, to the detriment of factors of effectiveness, speed and efficiency.